Ulster rain supreme over Zebre at wet and windy Kingspan
Ulster 22 Zebre 7
On a night when staying indoors looked the best option available, the two sides tried to serve up some rugby though this proved to be quite a struggle for all concerned.
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But Ulster still prevailed after another arm-wrestle of a contest though the cost of not picking up a try bonus already looks costly regardless of the conditions.
After only leading 10-7 at the break, Dan McFarland’s side rolled up their sleeves and got down to work managing a penalty try and a late Rob Lyttle effort to guarantee the result after Zebre played half of the second half down to 14 thanks to shipping two yellow cards.
The first half was hardly vintage thanks to Ulster’s awful start and Zebre taking full advantage by flying out of the blocks to go 7-0 up.
From there it was about steadying the ship, it looked anything but stable in those early minutes and the loss of Will Addison to injury didn’t help, and getting some points on the board.
Thankfully it happened thanks to Dave Shanahan’s try along with a conversion and penalty from Bill Johnston.
It wasn’t the best of evenings with the rain teaming down as both squads went through their warm-ups which hardly looked conducive for the try fests that the last two encounters with Zebre at the Kingspan have produced.
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It was the Italians who hit the ground running before the two minute mark had been reached. Ulster failed to gather the kick-off, gifting Zebre possession which they then held onto going through several phases.
Guglielmo Palazzani then threw a no-look flip pass after they had made ground right up to Ulster’s try line area and winger Mattia Bellini took the ball and surged through Marcell Coetzee’s attempted tackle to score.
Carlo Canna’s conversion put the visitors 7-0 ahead which immediately put McFarland’s men on the back foot.
It didn’t have a settling effect either on the home team. Indeed, Ulster continued to live dangerously with Canna’s cross-kick being taken by a scrambling Will Addison and then shortly afterwards Matt Faddes raced back to clear danger near Ulster’s line.
That wasn’t all as Dave Shanahan was then charged down by Oliviero Fabiani on his line though the ball went dead before the hooker could dive on it.
The province then managed their first visit to Zebre’s 22 but ended up going backwards due to the Italians’ aggressive first-up tackling and then Addison went off injured forcing a re-jig of Ulster’s backline with Louis Ludik moving to full-back and sub Craig Gilroy coming on to the wing.
Ulster then settled their nerves somewhat in the 20th minute through Dave Shanahan’s well-worked score. Ludik and Faddes handled down the left before the ball was moved right and Coetzee’s off-load out the back put Luke Marshall in space.
The centre stepped inside and then drew the last tackler before giving Shanahan the easy assist to run in under the posts and give Bill Johnston a straightforward conversion to tie the scores.
Two minutes after the 30-minute mark Ulster took the lead for the first time when Johnston kicked a penalty after Zebre were caught offside.
If Ulster had hoped they would kick-on from this they were mistaken. Again lack of accuracy in the conditions undid them, along with Zebre’s aggressive defending.
Despite Ulster trying to go for a score with the clock in red, they couldn’t find a way through and the half ended with the home side leading 10-7.
Early in the second half, shortly after Marshall nearly put Shanahan in again, Rob Herring surged over though Ulster had initially lost the lineout but Kieran Treadwell’s block on Maxime Mbanda ruled the score out.
Four minutes later, though, Ulster went 17-7 ahead after being awarded a penalty try which also then saw Ian Nagle yellow-carded for pulling down the home side’s driving maul.
Ulster failed to score with the man advantage but then 16 minutes later, with the home side piling on the pressure, flanker Giovanni Licata was shown yellow and Johnston’s cross-kick allowed Lyttle to dot down in the left corner.
Johnston missed the extras and that proved to be that. An awful night of weather and a pretty forgettable game.
Ulster: W Addison, L Ludik, M Faddes, L Marshall, R Lyttle, B Johnston, D Shanahan; J McGrath, R Herring (capt), T O’Toole, A O’Connor, K Treadwell, Mattie Rea, N Timoney, M Coetzee
Replacements: C Gilroy for Addison 16mins, S Reidy for Timoney and A Curtis for Ludik both 51mins, S Carter for O’Connor 54mins, J Cooney for Shanahan, K McCall for McGrath, A McBurney for Herring mins, R Kane for O’Toole all 72mins,
Zebre: J Laloifi, C Walker, J Elliott, T Boni, M Bellini, C Canna, G Palazzani; D Fischetti, O Fabiani, G Zilocchi, I Nagle, G Biagi (capt), M Mbanda, G Licata, R Giammarioli
Replacements: L Bigi for Fabiani 49mins, L Krumov for Biagi 51mins, E Lucchin for Boni 54mins, E Bello for Zilocchi 58mins, J Renton for Laloifi 60mins, D Rimpelli for for Fischetti 64mins,
Not used A Tauyavuca, R Tenga
Yellow cards: I Nagle 51mins, G Licata 69mins
Referee: S Grove-White (SRU)
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